So You're Seeing Some Progress. Now What?

How to keep growing when you aren’t so desperate anymore.

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Procrastination is a real thing. The knee-jerk attempt by our psyche to bask in the certainty a little longer, no matter how much you develop yourself, procrastination will always be looming close-by. Regardless of who you are, one of your cradle to grave tasks is killing off complacency on a second-to-second basis.

With this behavior so ubiquitous, it’s understandable how often it shapes our approach to life. It’s difficult to keep up with something that perpetuates back with a full head of steam every time you think you’ve shaken loose.

Procrastination also operates on a gradient— the more meaningful the task, the more liable it is to be put off for later, tomorrow, someday or never. Perhaps the most poignant example I can provide is when it comes to change within ourselves.

I myself didn’t want to take on the hard labor of having to address whatever mess I knew would arise once I finally stepped in front of the mirror. As long as I could piece together a package that floated — flailed, rather — above water, it wasn’t that serious. It took my emotional health reaching complete and utter decay for me to finally get my ass in gear.

You may have experienced something similar:

  • When you realized your weight had risen too high
  • When you decided your chosen career had puttered long enough
  • When you felt you couldn’t fake being happy in your relationship any longer
  • When you knew if you didn’t make some type of monumental shift, your life was sure to end up in ruin

However your life’s journey has unfolded, odds are you’ve recited some under-the-breath dialogue to the tune of “enough is enough” at least once in your life. 

So you did what you did: you made the decision. You drew a line in the sand. You devised a plan. You assembled support figures. You took action. You sought feedback on how you were doing. You yelled at yourself and cried in the corner a few times a day. You got back up. You persisted. You saw results. You were happy about your progress.

And now you’re here.

The shift has occurred, yet you still have a ways to go. The only difference is what’s driving you isn’t all that emotionally-charged anymore — you’re too far from the start to channel those feelings of shame, guilt and rage. Your “why” is a little stunted because you know you’re much better off than you began. How do I keep making progress when I’m actually doing well?

Let’s take a page from the field of positive psychology to assist us in creating our All-Madden level game-plan.

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Looking at change from a different angle

Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is a process of change implementation and achievement developed by David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva in the 1980's. Without getting too technical, AI is essentially a strength-based approach to creating and causing change.

As I mentioned before, most change is derived from a negative perspective. While negative experiences or traits can certainly propel extraordinary results out of the gate, you don’t have to wait until something breaks down to make a difference in yourself.

The essence of Appreciative Inquiry is by focusing on what’s working well, the enthusiasm and excitement necessary to re-create the positive is generated in a powerful manner. Conversely, any negative outliers don't carry such a heavy burden.

By appreciating and valuing the best of ourselves, others and periods of time, we heighten our personal sense of security to remain open, curious and detached about what else may be possible.

Here are the five basic principles of Appreciative Inquiry broken down for your leisure:

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1. Reality is not an objective fact, but a subjective experience

It’s counterintuitive to say, but reality (as most of us relate to it) is not real. Life is happening all around us, but it’s impossible to know any other view outside of your own.

Imagine you’re at a party that, in reality, is upbeat, captivating and high-energy. However, you’ve been conversing with a overtly dull and listless couple the entire time. I’d be willing to bet you’d walk out of that party complaining about how crappy it was.

So few of us actually think objectively. Fear drives much of our unconscious behavior and in order to stay protected (your brain’s job), we have to be thinking of ourselves at all times. 

When you get outside of the subjective takes, you see a far more even  and consistent picture. By altering your subjective experience with objective facts, you effectively increase your personal power.

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2. Change begins once you start asking questions

You cannot learn anything unless you’re open to it. By questioning something — if it could be done more, better or differently — we open ourselves up for opportunities.

Ever watch a movie for a second time and have a completely different experience? The movie didn’t change but the state you were in did. Perhaps on the day you enjoyed the movie more, you were well-rested, ate healthy, exercised, or simply laughed more that day and as a result, your defenses were lowered.

Our brains desperately want us to be right. What you tell yourself about what’s happening will eventually become your reality. If you lower your guard and allow your child-like wonder to roam, you raise up the garage door for the Ferrari (or Toyota Prius — whatever your thing is) to roll right in.

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3. The individual experience of life is a story that can be re-interpreted and told in different ways

Ever hear about Led Zeppelin's “Stairway to Heaven” being played backwards and interpreted as satanic music? Same notes, same pitch, same lyrics, yet a complete inverse result when looked at from another direction.

Our lives can experience a similar effect. Words create worlds. By shifting and improving the story we tell about our lives, highlighting the positive and stepping away from the negative, we slowly begin to feel better about ourselves and the lives we lead.

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4. Positive change is caused by creating positive images of the future

We won’t arrive where we want unless we depict where we want to go. The mind operates like a missile — as the target moves, so does the weapon. Overly-general and immeasurable goals won’t lead you anywhere, as the results will be imperceptible.

Describing in detail what it is we would like to improve or heighten provides the direction we need to avoid floundering along the tangents. And just like when we can’t get a song stuck in our head — because our mind wants to finish it — we can trust our brain will hunt it down until it’s firmly in our possession.

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5. Analyzing why something is working well is far more empowering than simply highlighting what isn’t

Negativity sucks. Even the most well-conditioned minds and emotionally agile people will still succumb to a marginal decline when engulfed by negativity. Leveraging something negative as motivation will only take you so far until you eventually collapse into yourself.

The good news is— I'm assuming if you're reading this— you’ve already made headway. You’re on the upswing. Momentum is on your side. And if we’ve learned anything by being alive this long, it’s that momentum multiplies. What you did to push through your first month of your self-improvement will have exponential impacts at this stage of the game. It’s all the more reason to keep your foot on the gas and while you're at it, put the pedal to the floor.

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The results you’ve produced up to this point have created a baseline level of confidence you didn’t possess before. Without a certain amount of confidence, you’ll shy away from the tough questions. You’ll feel threatened that by searching for a better solution for something that’s already working, you’re all of a sudden not good enough.

Lucky for you, you have that now. You’re probably a helluva lot more secure within yourself. You’ve vanquished your most intimidating personal demons. This is the time to be thankful, recognize value, and increase it.

Bumps in the road and lulls in your engagement are sure to visit you — (procrastination is always lurking, remember? 🙃) — but it’s par for the course. Stay excited by reminding yourself you now get to focus on the good instead of the bad to pilot your advancement.

The influx of positivity may cause some natural resistance (imposter syndrome, anyone?), so be keep a radar and side-step when you notice it. You don't have to feel guilty— you have a right to a happy life. Continue fine-tuning your approach and relish in every opportunity to be grateful that you can. Fill your heart up to capacity, give all that love away, and then fill it back up again. Repeat the cycle ad nauseam.

All bullshit aside, if things are going well for you, enjoy it while you can — our experiential and remembrance memories are never on the same page. Every moment in life—good, bad or indifferent—is gone before we ever realize it arrived.

As Azereth Skivel advised, 

“Time never comes. It only goes.”

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